After receiving feedback from school leaders, the Erie County Department of Health is adopting school guidance set forth by the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) as the controlling guidance for k-12 schools in Erie County starting Monday, Sept. 27.
The ECDOH originally issued its school guidance on Aug. 23. NYSDOH COVID-19 school guidance has been the minimum standard for schools to follow since it was introduced on Sept. 2. In order to bring consistency between school districts in Western New York, including some districts in Erie County that cross county lines, ECDOH will adopt the NYSDOH guidance.
“The COVID-19 school guidance that our department issued remains a strong document with practical, common-sense recommendations for schools to maintain safe and healthy operations,” Commissioner of Health Dr. Gale Burstein said. “We hope that, as school leaders look to NYSDOH guidance as a baseline, they maintain measures in our guidance document, especially since children’s health is at stake.”
State regulations for mask wearing in school settings and testing of school staff who cannot provide documentation of COVID-19 vaccination status remain unchanged.
“Our department has gone above and beyond the minimum to protect students in school settings,” Burstein said. “That is seen in the fact that we have a dedicated COVID-19 school team in our office of epidemiology – the only one that we know of in all of New York state. Additionally, we extended an offer for a test-through-quarantine option to a small set of influential district leaders, as a way to moderate the impact of quarantine. Unfortunately, that offer was dismissed by the district leaders.”
ECDOH will continue to support schools and districts to reduce risks in their buildings. It is coordinating COVID-19 screening testing, which has started in many districts and schools. Its COVID-19 proximate testing program, where students and staff in the same class or extracurricular as a case while contagious are tested, will start in early October.
ECDOH will provide another PPE distribution to schools next week, and the department has purchased COVID-19 antigen tests for schools to test unvaccinated school staff. ECDOH will also be sending sanitarians into schools to confirm compliance with NYSDOH requirements, as well as reviewing reports it receives regarding any failure to follow state guidance and other appropriate safety standards.
COVID-19 cases among Erie County k-12 students and school staff are markedly higher than at this time last year. Among that population, 194 COVID-19 cases were confirmed for the week ending Sept. 11, and 310 COVID-19 cases were confirmed for the week ending Sept. 18, with more results pending. Additionally, ECDOH has worked with the Akron Central School District to address what appears to be a growing COVID-19 outbreak among students and staff, including recommending the high school switch to remote learning until the outbreak can be contained.
“Our limited data since the school year’s start show that COVID-19 cases among youth and adolescents are driving our overall increase in countywide cases,” Burstein explained. “We fully expect to see more COVID-19 cases among students and school staff, and continued clusters of cases within classrooms, buses and sports teams. When those cases and outbreaks happen, we will direct our resources into appropriate contact tracing with support from schools and based on NYSDOH guidance.”
The contact tracing standard for students in school settings defines a close contact as an individual within 3 feet of a COVID-19 case for 15 cumulative minutes or more within a 24-hour period while that case was infectious.
√ New York State Department of Health, “Interim NYSDOH Guidance for Classroom Instruction in P-12 Schools during the 2021-2022 Academic Year”: https://coronavirus.health.ny.gov/system/files/documents/2021/09/school-guidance.pdf
√ Erie County Department of Health school testing program: www.erie.gov/schooltesting
√ ECDOH COVID-19 vaccine information and clinic schedule: http://www.erie.gov/vax
√ ECDOH COVID-19 information line: 716-858-2929 – foreign language interpretation available
√ ECDOH COVID-19 weekly data updates: https://www2.erie.gov/health/index.php?q=covid-19-media-data
√ Erie County COVID-19 wastewater testing: http://erie.gov/covid19-wastewater